January 1, 2015

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2014: A blogging year in review

2014 is over now, and it's time to review this blog a little, something I do every year (such as in 2013 and 2014). The past year was one of the years where I published the least posts of any year - only 39 in total (which is less than 1 per week). That's partly because I was busy, and partly because I was lazy, but mainly because I shared most of my opinions in bite-size pieces on my Facebook page, and I had not enough time to also extensively update here. Blogging for me should be something longer, well thought-through and timeless, while social media has that instant aspect to it, where you write what comes to mind, publish it and garner reactions very quickly, but in a day or two the story is old news already. Fact is, most conversations are happening on social media these days, not in the comment section below. When it comes to visits and pageviews, it was a good year. This blog had around 561,000 visits (a record year), and 1,077,000 page views (visits up 26%, pageviews up 11% compared to 2013). Basically visits are going up, pageviews are going down in the past 3 years, which is an interesting trend. My most popular post of 2014 with nearly 10,000 views was For Westerners: Downsides Of Living In Taiwan. All my posts published in 2014 have had around 1700 views on average, which is quite a high number. I'm glad people are reading my stuff. I think in 2015 things won't change that much: My private life is busy, and will continue to be busy, but I will try to find more time for myself. I will continue to focus on quality here rather than quantity, but this blog will definitely keep on running, now almost 7 years in total. Amazing, how time flies. Thank you for reading and following.

I wish you a happy new year 2015! You can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram.

December 2, 2014

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The subtle anti-Taiwan scribblings of foreign media

As many of you who follow my social media updates know by now, I'm an avid follower of Taiwan related news. On my Facebook page and Twitter I am sharing daily links, and adding my own flavor with various comments, summaries, and interpretations. We just had an interesting local election, where Taiwan's voters in vast majorities decided that they don't support the course of the current administration, and gave the opposition party and independent candidates a plenty of new mandates in various counties and cities around the country. That's all fine, and normal in a democracy, but the way some foreign English speaking media reported on this election is really making me questioning their integrity. I'm really fed up with all the subtle anti-Taiwan and pro-China scribblings, and I do wonder whether these authors do that on purpose, or has it become so ingrained in their writing about Taiwan, that they just spill it out without giving it a second thought. I really don't know, and I won't judge, but I want to shed some light on this, because it happens every week over and over again (from the Sunflower Movement, to Occupy Hong Kong and all the way to the recent election). I'm reading these things over and over again for a year, and I've had enough of it.

It usually starts with a headline

The article "Taiwan Election Results Likely to Complicate Relations With China" that triggered my anger was written by By Aries Poon, Jenny W. Hsu and Fanny Liu for the Wall Street Journal. In addition, it's remarked at the bottom that "Eva Dou and Chun Han Wong contributed to this article." Here a screen grab of the headline:

So instead of saying something positive, like: "Taiwan Election Results Likely to Bring About Change To Local Communities in Taiwan", the context is very negative, bordering on fear-mongering. I understand that the result of this election has implications beyond city and county, but still, the title makes it sound as if the democratic will of the people caused something bad. This made me suspicious whether there's an agenda behind it, so I started to analyze every sentence. But let's have a second look at the title. My question is: Why not make it sound like something that accurately reflects the reality, such as: "China Likely to Complicate Relations With Taiwan After Election Results". Do you see how this completely changes the connotation? Not the election results will complicate relations between China and Taiwan, Chinese communist regime will complicate relations, because they don't like the outcome of the election. This is a big difference.

Under the image we can read following description:

"Taiwan's warmer relations with China were expected to cool after the island's Beijing-friendly ruling party suffered a massive defeat at local elections, sparking the resignation of Premier Jiang Yi-Huah."

Once again the same thing, emphasizing the threat of "cooling relations", a murky term. Nobody really understands what that means, and it's so relative to the individual voter. And what are these so often cited "warm relations" anyway? Economic cooperation? Tourism? Taiwan has that with many countries, and without having to worry about a military invasion.

The "island and the mainland" context

And then there are the notoriously misused terms "island" and "mainland", which are taken straight out from Beijing's propaganda book, and always irk me to the bone. Each of them are used 4 times in this article. Dear journalists, the last I checked Taiwan doesn't have a mainland, it's a country spanning over an archipelago, just like Japan, the Philippines, Indonesia, and several other island countries. Hainan has a mainland, Jeju has a mainland, Newfoundland has a mainland, but not Taiwan. There's a simple rule for journalists who want to be credible: Never use "island" and "mainland" in the context of Taiwan and China.

Beijing, the victim of the DPP and the Taiwanese voter

Here's another paragraph that makes me shake my head (and I've read similar things in English language media so often that I can't count anymore):

The losses in Saturday’s elections for posts from mayor to village leader are further weakening support for Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou, whose approval ratings were already low, and his Nationalist Party. It strengthens the opposition Democratic Progressive Party, which has had difficult dealings with Beijing in the past, and it leaves China weighing its options on how to push forward its goal of eventual reunification with the island.

The part "difficult dealings with Beijing in the past" is not explained because it doesn't make sense, but the blame for these "difficult dealings" is clearly put on the subject here (namely the DPP, and subsequently on Taiwan's democracy), instead of Beijing, which is the actual root cause of these "difficult dealings". Further on saying that this election victory of the DPP and independents "leaves China weighing its options" on how to annex Taiwan (you can't "reunify" something that was not "united" in the first place) almost sounds like a justification for such action. Once again keep in mind that it's all about the context and connotations, and how the journalist decided to phrase it. It can be very subtle.

To give you a counter-example, this whole paragraph could've been written as following:

The losses in Saturday’s elections for posts from mayor to village leader are further weakening support for Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou, whose approval ratings were already low, and his Nationalist Party. It strengthens the opposition Democratic Progressive Party, which Beijing has obstructed in the past, and let's China continue to push forward its goal of eventual annexation of the island country.

Further on we read the same thing once again, just rephrased:

While voters appeared largely focused on concerns about stagnant wages and income inequality, some analysts said Mr. Ma’s agenda of closer economic integration with China is also likely to be slowed, if not stalled.

Did you see how totally unrelated the two parts of this paragraph are? Read again. It's just amazing.

So to sum it up: There is no hope anymore, the journalists and analysts all agree that loom and gloom is about to happen between China and Taiwan. But let's be real: Nothing major will change until 2016, and even if DPP wins the presidency that year, it would need a determined leader, and a strong majority in the legislature to reverse so many of the harmful decisions that were made during the 8 years of Ma administration. That is unlikely to happen, even if many people hope for that. We may see some reforms, some improvements, no doubt, but the way Taiwan functions won't change any time soon. It will take generations to reform the current political system, and change the way certain interest groups control this country, and shamelessly plunder its resources.

Further below the authors once again give us the impression that "Ma and Beijing" are victims of the Sunflower Movement (and omit mentioning that the about a half a million people from all over Taiwan marched against the services-trade pact with China):

In March, the student-led Sunflower Movement occupied Taiwan’s legislative hall for three weeks, forcing Mr. Ma’s government to put on hold a services-trade pact with China. That pact is now likely to become a casualty of the KMT’s politically weakened state, some analysts said, illustrating the difficult position in which Beijing finds itself.

The "China and Taiwan split in civil war" nonsense

It takes about 5 minutes to skim through the History of Taiwan on Wikipedia to realize that this is simply a false statement:

Six decades after China and Taiwan split in a civil war, Mr. Ma was the most willing partner Beijing had found, interested in economic integration while putting off—but not ruling out—talk on China’s objective of reunifying both sides of the Taiwan Strait.

China and Taiwan did not split in a civil war 6 decades ago, because Taiwan was not involved in the Chinese Civil War, because it was not part of China during that time, it was part of Japan. Why is it so hard to be accurate? I read th same statement over and over again in many publications, and even if it's printed a million times, it's still wrong. This is simply not what happened.

"The CCP and KMT experts"

It's interesting how a Chinese expert (who sounds like a CCP appointed spokesman) is so often used to reinforce the main message of this whole article:

“This election could be a harbinger of a chilly period in cross-strait relations,” said Li Zhenguang, a professor at Beijing Union University’s Institute of Taiwan Studies. “It would be difficult for China and Taiwan to sign off on any economic pacts in the near future, even if negotiations may continue.”

And then there are the so often quoted "experts" that are quoted to lecture the DPP about how it has to deal with China:

With its victories at the polls, the opposition DPP also must decide how to deal with China. Though some behind-the-scenes bridge-building has taken place, Beijing is largely wary of the DPP, which is pro-independence and against reunification.

And the obligatory emphasis on what China has said:

China has said dialogue between Taipei and Beijing should be based on the idea that both sides belong to “one China”—a concept the DPP has rejected.

And finally the journalist takes on the role of "the expert" and says the same thing again:

As it looks to the presidential elections in 2016, the DPP must consider whether to soften its position on China to appeal to a broader range of voters and think about how far it can go without alienating core supporters, analysts said.

And because that's not enough, let's quote another expert:

“For the DPP, the party must quickly present a workable and convincing alternative to the KMT’s China policies. The main reason why the DPP lost in 2012 is because it didn’t offer any sound solution to cross-strait issues,” said National Taiwan University’s Mr. Wang.

Because sound solutions are only the ones that appease Beijing. Right? Right. Did you notice that there was not once any mentioning of what China should do? What China should change? Apparently China, the communist dictatorship, does everything right, while the democratic Taiwan has done so many things wrong. And not a single time was there any mentioning of the words "democracy", "dictatorship", and "communist". Why is this blended out? It's extremely important to the context.

After reading this article, I was under the impression that:

- the KMT and Beijing were the victim of this election
- that this election caused a worsening of relations between China and Taiwan
- that everything will be bad now in general, so get ready for it
- that DPP has to make many changes to win 2016 election
- China does not need to do anything

The conclusion

When you read articles about Taiwan, you have to pay attention to following things: What is emphasized, what is omitted, who is quoted, and in what context the text is written. For me personally this text reads mostly like CCP propaganda with a touch KMT propaganda wrapped in journalism. Whether this, and tons of other similar articles, are deliberately written in such way I can't say, and I don't claim, but it's highly suspicious. Leave your opinion in the comments below, I want to hear what you think.

November 18, 2014


Cheated by a Taipei taxi driver

Yesterday for the first time since I moved to Taiwan I was cheated by a taxi driver. He drove me a much longer route, and I noticed it too late, because I was immersed in my phone. When he was close to my neighborhood, he drove through small lanes instead of the main road to extend the ride and charge more. I was in a rush to reach home as fast as possible, so when I realized what he was doing, I was massively pissed off. I could've exploded, but I was afraid that it would escalate and he'd throw me out, so I called my wife instead. She first asked me to put her on the speaker, she wanted to argue, but I was afraid he will pretend dumb, say he didn't understand "the laowai" (which was clearly not the case). Then she advised me to take a photo of his profile which is found at the back of the front seat, and take another photo of the car from outside after I exit. Once he reached close to where I live, I asked him to stop next to an MRT station, I've had enough, and wanted to go out. I usually pay around 170 NTD, but the meter was already at 240 NTD, and I was still 10 min away from home. I didn't care about those 70 NTD I had to pay extra, what pained me the most is the fact that I thought such things don't happen in Taiwan, the image of the honest Taipei cabbie was shattered in my mind in that moment. It was a massive disappointment. After I paid my overcharged fare, I couldn't help but ask (with an angry tone) why he drove all around instead of directly, and as I expected he pretended dumb. I told him my wife will call his company, and left the car. I took a photo from outside, and then hopped on a bus home. Whether this will help to change his behavior the next time he drives a foreigner is highly questionable. I do have to add, though, that I usually have no problems with cabbies. I've taken around 20 cabs in the past 2 months, and this is the only bad case. I hope it stays this way.

October 25, 2014

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Taiwanese working in China may secure KMT victory in Taipei mayoral race

One has to have very strong guts to read all the way to the end of this shabby piece in the Want China Times, that sounds more like a campaign staffer mobilizing voters instead of a journalistic work. It's not hard to guess that this has upset me quite a bit. Since I'm good with numbers and statistics, let me simplify it for you: So according to Want China Times up to 4.9% of potential voters in the Taipei mayoral election live and work in China, which equals to around 70,000 people, and if we are to believe these numbers, then the total sum of voters in Taipei should be 1,428,571). 70% of Taiwanese working in China are believed to be KMT supporters, which would equal to around 49,000 potential voters for Lien. The article further claims that if they would've returned to Taiwan just to vote for someone, who's biggest achievement is being the son of the former chairman of the unpopular ruling party, he may secure a victory. On a first glance that seems to be less likely then sighting a yeti on Alishan, but in order to be fair, I decided to analyze these numbers published by the Want China Times.

Let's add more stats into the mix

An article in Focus Taiwan reports that an opinion poll conducted by the pro-Lien United Daily News from 4 days ago made following claims (my summary):

"Ko Wen-je would beat Sean Lien of the Kuomintang by a margin of 13 percentage points if the Taipei mayoral election were to be held now. 42 percent of Taipei City's voters favored Ko, compared with 29 percent favoring Lien. 26 percent of those surveyed remained undecided or would not reveal their preference, and the remaining 3 percent backed the five other candidates registered in the race."

The voter turnout in the 2010 Taipei Mayoral election was 70.65% (1,433,736 voters in total), which confirms Want China Time's number. Let's get to the analysis.

Now let the numbers do the magic

I want to answer following question: Based on the numbers that have been thrown around in the article, what would it take for Sean Lien to win this race?

Below is my calculation based on the assumption that:

- Expected number of total voters will be 1,428,571
- 70,000 voters work in China, all Lien supporters will come back to Taipei to vote
- The recent UDN poll of voters in Taiwan is accurate

I have also set most other assumptions in favor of Lien to show how difficult he will have it to secure victory. Let me stress that these numbers are speculative, they may highlight a certain trend and challenge, but they should not be understood literally.

The calculation

The most difficult thing here was to figure out how many of the undecideds will not vote for Lien or Ko, but for other less known candidates. I have put it at 3.87% (same as in the current poll, if we just focus on decided voters), assuming that the ratio will be preserved, but this is purely speculative, and chosen to give Lien favorable numbers.

The conclusion

Ko and Lien are basically competing for a pool of 339,574 undecided voters, and Lien needs to take 68.8% of these votes (or 233,595). He has to grow his current support 52.7% until November 29th. Achieving all this is not impossible, but it will surely be difficult, because everything points into the opposite direction right now. And my assumption is based on the fact that all Kuomintang supporters who work in China come back and vote for him, which is 49,000 people. If we take (based on these numbers) that an average round trip from a Chinese city to Taipei costs 200 USD, the cost of bringing all these people to Taipei to vote would be 9,8 million USD. I'm pretty sure that this money is peanuts for the Lien clan, but the logistics behind getting all of them here to vote will be a bigger challenge. And one thing is sure: They will not be the deciding factor. Lien needs to primarily focus on energizing people who actually live in Taipei, because they are the ones that are mostly unimpressed with him. It just doesn't look good for him regardless how we spin the numbers. I would not bet on Lien this year.

Sean Lien's got 99 problems but money ain't one.

October 10, 2014

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The "Taipei Moon Bridge" viral photo demystified

I want to highlight two phenomena today, that always occur when Taiwan tops some random list on an English language website. The first thing that usually happens is Taiwanese media picks it up, translates it into Chinese, and the stuff gets viral in Taiwan, usually on social media first, and later also on TV. Then Taiwanese netizens go to that site and start to comment, often also in Chinese. That's partly because Taiwanese are generally lacking recognition in the world due to the tricky international standing, and the obstructions by the neighboring bully China, so there is a yearning to be recognized and appreciated as a nation, especially with the younger generation. And the second thing I want to highlight is how often stuff about Taiwan gets viral, that may not accurately reflect the reality of the country, because people abroad simply don't know Taiwan that well, but they do have some wrong ideas. Usually it's some obscure random stuff with little substance labeled under "whacky East Asia", which leads to further cliches about Taiwan (and that's a topic for a completely new post).

Apple Daily usually starts it

Screen grab from Apple Daily. Their FB post generated over 16,000 likes by now.

So this is what happened today: Taiwan's number one tabloid Apple Daily reposted and translated parts of a user generated post on Bored Panda titled "20+ Mystical Bridges That Will Take You To Another World", because an image of an arch bridge in Taipei's Neihu District landed on the list. The linked post on their Facebook page reached a massive virality by now (over 16,000 likes, and over 800 reshares), which must have caused huge traffic spikes on Bored Panda. Taiwanese netizens have been upvoting this image for a while now, so it became "no 1 mystical bridge in the world" on that list (when I checked it earlier today, it was second). That's not really something to be proud of, to be honest.

Sorry, but the Taipei Moon Bridge is not mystical

The Taipei Moon Bridge (encircled in red) is by now the most popular mystical bridge on that list. See the image in full scale.

The funny thing is, that this seemingly mystical image already went viral 2 years ago, when the British tabloid The Daily Mail and some other European tabloids reposted some of these images (which were taken from a Taiwanese photographer's Flickr photo set), and wrote following fluff:

Morning mist hangs in the calm, still air adding to the dream-like magic of this tranquil setting in Taiwan. The crystal clear water allows for a perfect reflection of an upside down world, almost playing tricks on the mind. With scenery like this, it is no wonder that Taiwan was formerly known as the Beautiful Island - Ilha Formosa - to the West.

After I read this article two years ago, I decided to pay Neihu a visit with my DLSR, and see the Moon Bridge with my own eyes. While the bridge and the surrounding lake are quite pleasant, it doesn't feel as mystical as the images would let you believe. That's because they were photoshopped (the "playing tricks on the mind" part was correct). Those who live in Taiwan would know, that there is usually no morning mist in Taipei when the sun is up that high. It must have been at least 10-11 AM when the viral photo was taken, which means it can should've been really hot already, any kind of early morning mist would've evaporated long time ago. Don't misunderstand me, I love the image, and the Photoshop effect is awesome, but unfortunately people outside Taiwan believe this photo represents an authentic reality. It does not. Here's how the Moon Bridge looks like on my photos when I visited Neihu in May 2012:

A view from afar.

The Taipei Moon Bridge.

A side view.

The Taipei MRT brown line to Nangang is passing by here.

The bridge is not always easy to see. Can you spot it?

The Dahu Park is really nice, though.

This is a residential neighborhood behind the lake.

History of the Taipei Moon Bridge

Taipei's Moon Bridge, as it's named in English by the local government, is called 錦帶橋 in Chinese, which is actually the name of a famous wooden arch bridge in Iwakuni, Japan - the Kintai Bridge. That bridge dates back to 1673, and is considered one of Japan's national treasures (source). The design of the Taipei Moon Bridge however looks very similar to a lot of arch bridges (拱橋) found in China, most notably the Jade Belt Bridge 玉帶橋 at the Summer Palace in Beijing, that dates back to 1736 (source). The Dahu Park as it looks like today was built between 1979 and 1983, and was designed as a classical Chinese garden (source). So to sum everything up: The photoshopped Moon Bridge is actually not older than 25 years. It has the same name as a famous old bridge in Japan, and the same design as a famous old bridge in China. I think Sanxiantai would be a better choice for the list.

Kintai bridge.jpg
"Kintai bridge" by pastaitaken. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Gaoliang Bridge.JPG
"Jade Belt Bridge". Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
A side shot of the Taipei Moon Bridge for comparison.

October 9, 2014